**September 2020 – Post updated to include details from our June 2020 trip!**
After all the rain we received this winter, we had one requirement for our spring break destination: somewhere warm & sunny! Ideally, we didn’t want to go too far so we decided on Palm Springs which is driveable from the Bay Area (granted, a loooong drive!). We rented a house with a pool so the kids could have lots of uninterrupted swim time – it was forecast to be in the 90s during our April stay.
As much as we all love to hang out at the pool, I knew we needed to have some activities planned to get out of the house and see some of Palm Springs. We barely made a dent in my list so I’ll need to keep it handy for the next time we go back.
Things To Do
The last time we went to the Living Desert the kids were 5 years younger and we spent a lot of time watching the enormous model train display in the center of the park. This time we didn’t linger too long as it was hot and we wanted to get to the giraffes. They did love ringing the signal bell though.
Our 10 and 7-year-old were so excited to feed the giraffes! There was a healthy line, but luckily it moved quickly and we didn’t have to wait too long for them to get a handful of carrots and their own turn to feed a momma & baby giraffe. They loved being able to get up so close to the giraffes! Such a fun experience!
Look at those long black tongues!
As hard as we tried to get to the Living Desert early we didn’t make it until 11AM when the temperature was well into the 80s. By that point, many of the animals were hiding in the shade and out of site so we didn’t get to see everything we wanted. There were some interactive displays like a drum set and some huts for the kids to climb in. There were also some shows and animal talks, but we didn’t wait for any of those as it was hot and I think the kids heard the pool back at our house calling their names. All in all, The Living Desert was a good way to spend an hour or two.
You saw them in Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure and you can see them as you drive by on I-10. It took us many trips to Palm Springs before we actually stopped here and it was certainly worth a quick stop! The best part is the two large dinosaurs: a T-Rex and a Brontosaurus and we took our obligatory photos! There’s a gift shop inside the Brontosaurus and you can climb into Mr. Rex’s mouth for a photo too!
Additionally, there’s an outdoor dinosaur trail (which we didn’t do because there’s an admission fee and our kids seemed a bit too old!). On weekends there’s a Wafflesaurus Truck for ice cream which we absolutely would have tested out had we not been there on a weekday!
Tahquitz Falls Trail
Tahquitz Canyon is in the Agua Caliente Indian Preserve in Palm Springs. The hike to the falls is an easy 1.7 miles roundtrip. This is one of my favorite hikes we’ve done! The big payoff is a 60 foot waterfall with a large swimming hole! The hardest thing about this hike was the heat (90+ degrees at 8am), but that made jumping in the frigid swimming hole that much sweeter!
Read the full post on this hike here.
Palm Canyon Trail
I had read some pretty fabulous things about the Palm Canyon Trail in Indian Canyon. It’s a natural oasis and the largest grouping of native California palms in the world. Because of all the rain we’ve seen this year the wildflowers were supposed to be pretty spectacular.
There were signs to watch out for rattlesnakes. We stayed on the trail and didn’t see any (thank goodness!). There was a decent amount of traffic on the trail so I wasn’t too worried we’d actually see one, but be alert because they are there!
It was a good 10-15 degrees cooler down in the oasis with the shade and a decent breeze. We had never been to a natural oasis and it was hard to believe it was naturally occurring. Palms, sand, and running streams…..a little part of me could have been fooled into thinking I was in Hawaii.
The first 3/4 mile of the trail is mostly in the shade of the palms winding along next to a stream.
There were lots of places to stop and explore along the trail. The kids loved climbing the palms, throwing rocks in the stream, balancing on trunks over the water. At the beginning of the trail, there are picnic tables near the stream and it would be a perfect place to relax and have lunch.
After we walked about 3/4 of a mile we left the oasis and started hiking up a more strenuous trail. Apparently this trail continues on for 15 more miles, but we only made it about another half a mile or so. Once we were out of the shade and climbing steeply it seemed to zap the energy right out of the kids.
This was our turnaround point – the point at which no one could take another step up the mountain. After enjoying the views of the San Jacinto mountains and some snacks & lots of water we headed back down the trail.
Thank goodness there was a snack bar back at the ranger station. The promise of an ice cream at then end of the trail got the kids to power through the trail just a little bit further than they otherwise would have gone.
Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail – Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park is about an hour outside of Palm Springs so it makes for an easy day trip. We seem to gravitate towards desert hikes that include an oasis. I don’t know if I’ll ever tire of finding palm trees, a little shade and cooler temps, and a stream right in the middle of the desert!
Fortynine Palms is the most difficult hike we’ve done while in Palm Springs. It’s a 3.1 mile out and back hike with 300′ elevation gain each way. The trail itself is moderate, but the summer heat added to the difficulty. My advice is to do this hike as early as possible in the summer (the park opens at sunrise) so you can make some progress before the sun heats up. We began at 8am and it was already close to 100 degrees! It’s a fantastic hike, but be prepared for the heat.
Read our full post on Fortynine Palms here.
Where to Eat
The Parker for Brunch
I had heard that the place to go for brunch in Palm Springs is Norma’s at The Parker Hotel. The reviews were great, mostly raving about the 70s inspired ambiance, the food, and the portion sizes, although some complained about the high prices ($27 for pancakes). I was all in for a chance to see The Parker Hotel. The entrance is highly photographed and I needed to get inside the hotel. It did not disappoint. We sat outside on the patio under the shades and I highly recommend choosing the patio over inside seating. A reservation is a must especially if you aren’t staying at the hotel.
Although, I guess if you want to take a picture of the entrance like I did, my suggestion would be to plan around the shadows. Oh, and be sure to wear your matching bright orange shirt!
Now I’m not generally one who takes pictures of food, but the food was too amazing not to. Below are the “Nutella Packed Jacks”: what you can’t see is all the Nutella between those pancakes!
They had our 12-year-old in mind when they created the “Chocolate Decadence French Toast”. We thought the french toast would just be drizzled in chocolate, but we were wrong. It was like a stack of brownies covered in syrup & chocolate sauce and then topped with whipped cream with some strawberries thrown in for good measure. HE. LOVED.IT. “Decadence” was perhaps an understatement.
Our 7-year-old is going through a phase where he wants to order whatever our older son orders. He thought the french toast looked amazing and loved the whipped cream, but he ended up only taking a few bites as it was just too rich for him. Luckily my Belgian Waffle was plenty big for the two of us to share! Mike got the Huevos Rancheros. We all agreed that it was incredibly delicious and worth the splurge. I think this was the most expensive meal of our trip.
After brunch, we took some time to walk around and enjoy the grounds of The Parker. Part of the grounds were blocked off for “registered guests” only, but our kids had no trouble settling right in and relaxing.
We ate at Billy Reed’s on our way out of town. It was dark with wood paneling and chandeliers, and heavy wood tables with sturdy velvet backed chairs. It felt very old-school. Our kids still talk about the chicken & waffles they got!
In 2020 we went back and dining out was a bit different! Some restaurants were open for in-person dining, others had take-out only, and many seemed to have reduced their hours and have limited menu offerings. But we still found some fun places to try. Lulu California Bistro is located right on S Palm Canyon Drive and had a fun sidewalk patio with lots of cool air misters. Lulu was the first place we ate where we accessed the menu from our phones using a QR code. The menu was extensive even including some vegetarian & vegan options. We also ate a Tropicale which had a fun “tropical” vibe. We ate outside on their extensive patio covered in greenery. They had pizzas, pastas, burgers, and other entrees plus a great bar menu too – even the kids got fancy drinks! And one night we got Mexican takeout from Rio Azul. This was our favorite meal on this trip – I especially loved the to-go Margaritas!
Despite many trips to Palm Springs, we had never had one the famous date shakes. Trying a date shake was on my list of must-dos in 2020! The kids were skeptical because dates look gross, but they agreed the shakes were delicious. We had them 3 of our 4 days. We all tried the chocolate banana date shakes at Hadley’s Fruit Orchard twice! We also got them at Windmill Market where they were rated the best date shake in Palm Springs by Sunset magazine. The shakes at Windmill Market did not have added chocolate (and I’m a chocolate fan), but they did taste fresher. The kids preferred the chocolate version from Hadley’s and I voted for Windmill because I felt like I could taste the sweetness of the Medjool dates whereas the chocolate overpowered the dates in the other. But I’d eat them both again!
Last, but not least, we spent plenty of time in the pool. With this view it was hard to stay away.
For a family that does not have a pool at home, we certainly own a lot of pool toys & inflatables. We brought dive toys, a floating volleyball net, rings to swim through, and some inflatable animals & lounges which all kept the kids busy for hours & hours.
Things We Didn’t Get To:
As is usually the case, I had a list of things to do much longer than we could actually get to. This just means we’ll need to take another trip to Palm Springs! Here are some of the things we didn’t get to:
- Aerial Tramway – The aerial tramway takes you to an elevation of 8,500ft in 10 minutes in a rotating cable car. Even though I’m afraid of heights and the thought of this gives me major butterflies, I still wanted to do this as the views and hiking at the top are supposed to be great. However, with Kate recovering from 2 recent concussions, her doctor warned us that the quick change in elevation could give her a headache and we decided this was something that could wait until our next trip.
- More hiking: Murray Canyon, Whitewater Canyon, Mecca Hills Painted Canyon
- Joshua Tree National Park – Explore more!
- Shields Date Garden – Because more date shakes! There’s also a cafe, a walk through the 17-acre date farm, and a large theater featuring the movie “The Romance and Sex Life of the Date” – I’m intrigued!
- Salton Sea – looks intriguing. Has anyone been?
If you have other places you love, let me know so I can add them to my list!